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Political Issues Cloud State's Conspiracy Probe of Chico Feminist Center

September 07, 1988|MARK A. STEIN | Times Staff Writer

"They waited so long (to file charges), they aced out our ability to defend ourselves," Hasper said. Defendants and bookkeepers have difficulty recalling why certain expenses were OKd five to seven years ago, she said, and two important witnesses have moved out of the state and cannot be questioned.

Other Agencies Affected

Whatever a judge and jury ultimately find, the Chico case already has other nonprofit human service agencies rethinking the use of volunteers who are also accepting unemployment benefits, said several other nonprofit managers.

"People (at other nonprofit groups) are scared to death to say they do it, but they've told us they do it all the time," said Carol P. Downer of the Los Angeles-based Federation of Feminist Women's Health Centers. "I have had lots of people call up and say, 'My goodness, you're having trouble for that?' "

Roma Guy of the Women's Foundation in San Francisco declined to name anyone, fearing she may bring the group to the attention of authorities. But, she said, "lots of nonprofits are forced to lay people off and then turn around and ask them to volunteer."

Handwritten notes by one state investigator show that he warned his bosses about similar activities he suspected at six other health centers in the state--clinics in Hollywood, Santa Monica and Oakland were named--as well as feminist agencies in Portland, Seattle, Atlanta and Tallahassee, Fla.

Managers at the California centers dismissed the unsubstantiated suspicions as political harassment by the conservative Deukmejian Administration.

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